WASHINGTON— U.N. officials have announced that the first Syrian peace conference will be held January 22 in Geneva, although it is not clear which opposition groups will attend. Some Middle East analysts doubt the conference will produce a settlement for the nearly three-year-old conflict.
For months, the United Nations has been trying to set up a peace conference but it has been delayed repeatedly due to disputes about which groups will be represented and under what conditions.
Meanwhile, fighting rages with more than 100,000 dead and nearly nine million driven from their homes.
The goal of the conference will be to establish a transitional governing body with full power over the military and armed groups fighting each other.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sounded upbeat about the prospect.
“At long last and for the first time, the Syrian government and opposition will meet at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield,” said he.
But just one day after that announcement, the commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss, said that his group will not participate in the conference and that combat will continue, dashing hopes for a ceasefire.
Charles Dunne, an analyst at Freedom House, sounded a note of skepticism.
“There’s too much bad blood, mistrust and violence on both sides to really create conditions for a real negotiated solution. So I just don’t see it going forward successfully,” said Dunne.
U.N. Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has led the negotiations for the peace conference and plans to forge ahead. He called it “a huge opportunity for peace that should not be wasted.”
But the pain on the ground continues in the aftermath of repeated government airstrikes.
And as government forces, aided by Hezbollah fighters, make gains in the war, analysts doubt Damascus is ready to bargain.
Jim Phillips of the Heritage Foundation says battlefield advances on the part of the military make concessions by Damascus unlikely.
“Well, I think the fact that the government appears to be resurging, undermines the chances the Assad regime will negotiate in good faith,” said Phillips.
Opposition groups have insisted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leave office as part of any settlement. However, government officials say that will not happen.
Another strike against a successful peace conference is that rebel groups are now fighting each other.
Some al-Qaida linked fighters are controlling areas they have seized with the goal of establishing an Islamic government.
Charles Dunne sees the prospects as rather bleak.
“I’m pessimistic about the future of Syria. I don’t see an early end to the military conflict. I’m also increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of a peaceful solution that will result in a stable, democratic regime,” said Dunne.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 in the form of peaceful protests against Assad’s autocratic rule, but then evolved into the civil war, threatening the stability of its neighbors.